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John Stossel
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Watch the Watchmen

Comment

I believe in the right to privacy.

Yet I can think of someone who deserves very little privacy — a policeman making an arrest. Unfortunately, in some states it's a crime to make a video of a policeman doing just that. People recording police have been threatened, detained or arrested. Some were jailed overnight.

That's wrong. Police work for the public, they're paid with tax money, and most importantly, they have tremendous power. They've got the legal right to pull guns, detain us, lock us up and, in some cases, shoot us. The potential for abuse is great. So it's a good thing that modern video cameras are now so commonplace. Any abuse of police power in a public place is likely to be recorded. Why should that be a crime in some states?

I asked Radley Balko, an editor at Reason magazine who keeps an eye on issues like this: What's happened to the people who were arrested for videotaping cops at work?

"In most of these cases, the people aren't actually prosecuted," Balko said. "The charges tend to get dropped before these cases get to trial — I think because the people prosecuting these cases and the people who make the laws don't want the laws to actually get challenged. But it's a night in jail."

On what charge?

"In states that have these two-party consent laws, they rely on the old wiretapping laws. The claim is that police officers have a right to privacy while they're on the job in public exercising some pretty powerful responsibilities that we give them. I think that claim is ridiculous."

He says some authorities now claim that people who record the police while being arrested are "interfering with arrest or ... refusing to obey a lawful order, if they tell you to turn the camera off and you don't."

How does it interfere with the arrest?

"It's a ridiculous argument. But here's the thing: You may not go to jail for these charges. But they're going to take your camera, going to arrest you, you're going to be handcuffed, put in the back of a squad car.

And nothing is going to happen to the police officers who illegally arrest you — usually."

Occasionally a cop caught abusing his power is arrested or fired. But that's rare.

In Maryland, motorcyclist Tony Graber got in trouble for recording a cop who pulled him over for speeding. Graber didn't know it was cop. He was just a guy in plainclothes with a gun. The cop eventually identified himself.

"Graber didn't get arrested until he posted that video on YouTube," Balko explained. "Once he posted it ... the state police raided his home — came into his home early in the morning, guns drawn — confiscated a bunch of computer equipment, held him and his parents at gunpoint, arrested him. He spent several nights in jail. He had felony charges hanging over his head until the case finally got to court."

Fortunately, a state judge threw out the charges and wrote a strong opinion:

"Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation."

He ended by asking, "Who watches the watchmen?" — a question Plato raised in "The Republic." Good for the judge. But Balko points out that no one punished the authorities who abused their power.

"The prosecutor who charged him, the cops who raided him and arrested him — they were all wrong about the law and did real harm to him, and none of them are going to suffer any consequences."

Most police officers told us that they're fine with cameras, and some were happy they were recorded when they were vindicated of misconduct charges thanks to a video made by a bystander. The cops who object tend to be problem cops.

That little phone with a camera is a good thing. Now it's even a weapon against tyranny.

But, Balko added, only if the laws "ensure that we can continue to use it that way."

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="http://www.johnstossel.com" <http://www.johnstossel.com>>johnstossel.com</a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2011 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS, INC.

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Comments

7 Comments | Post Comment
A government that is not held responsible in the eyes of the people is not a government "of, by, and for" those people. Our government seems to think it deserves to exist just because, and that average citizens have no right to question their authority or practices. Politicians are not elected to be the voice of the people, they are elected to rule over those people (as George W. Bush so quaintly put it he was "the decider"). Now days, if you speak out against the government, you are labeled a terrorist, communist, or some other "ist" that is meant to be derogatory and demeaning. Imagine if George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founding fathers were alive today, trying to stir up unrest and rebellion against our oppressive government. Under the patriot act, they'd be labeled as terrorists, jailed for an indeterminate amount of time without access to legal representation, and ultimately buried in some super-max in some remote Colorado mountain range, never to be heard from again.

We are only beginning to see the light with revelations from organizations like Wikilinks and citizen recorded videos posted to YouTube and the like. Yes, it's potentially dangerous to release documents about an ongoing war, but at the same time, why is the government even keeping these documents in the first place, if they're so sensitive and dangerous? If the citizens, the people supposedly in charge of the government, don't have a right to know, why are we writing this stuff down anyway? To whom is the government being held accountable, if not the people? As for everything else released, underhanded dealings with banks and other such practices, these are more examples of what's wrong with our government. The government has no business dealing with corporations and banks, much less is there any reason to keep those dealings private.

Take a look at everything being revealed about the government, and just try to imagine the things we HAVEN'T learned about yet.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Nathan H.
Tue Apr 19, 2011 1:39 PM
This issue needs to go before the Supreme Court, where I am confident any such law would be overturned.

A public official, in their course of their duties, should have no expectation of privacy. Just as an arrest is a matter of public record, so should the actions of police.

Your comment, "The cops who object tend to be problem cops.", best sums it up.

Comment: #2
Posted by: David B.
Fri Apr 22, 2011 10:58 PM
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? was asked by Plato in " The Republic " but is actually attributed to Roman poet Juvenal.
Comment: #3
Posted by: BAROSKI, P.I.
Sat Apr 23, 2011 12:57 PM
Government officials who are employed by the public to do the public's business in the spirit of public service should have nothing to fear from cameras. Currently, the Bureau of Land Management is being sued for denying the public and media their first amendment rights. The agency has denied citizens and journalists the right view wild horses as they enter trap pens. Advocates and the public are interested in the condition of wild horses as they are rounded up by helicopter contractors (some with no helicopter flight experience). Some advocates and photographers have visited herds over the years and have become familiar with the horse family bands. They have an interest in which horses have been rounded up, These horses do, however, belong to the American people, not the Bureau of Land Management. Since the process of galloping horses, fully pregnant mares, and new born foals, as well as older horses for miles over tundra or desert, covered with rocks, is a recipe for brutality, the Bureau has received bad PR. Rather than take a look at their bad policies, the BLM has focused on keeping the public away from the horses during stampedes, while the horses are in short term holding, and no one ever sees them again once they go to long term holding.
When shots of foals whose hooves sloughed off lie on the ground, unable to stand, wait for hours on the frozen ground at the holding facility for they know not what, after being run for hours over the hard, cold ground, riding five more hours lying on the cold, metal bottom of a truck, after being separated at the trap site from their families, transparency ended. Prior to the reign of the current administration, some wild horses such as the older horses, pregnant mares and foals, were left on the range. Now the contractor tries to get every one he can (at $350.00 per head that arrives alive at the trap). It used to be that horses were not rounded up within six weeks of foaling season.
Wild horses in the United States are supposed to be protected by law, but the government seems to be above the law. The BLM's management of our wild horses and burros is a national disgrace. The public is treated as an enemy rather than a potential partner. Female advocates with nothing but cameras are greeted by armed BLM guards. One female member of the Press with a court order to view a roundup and who had made prearrangements was with the BLM was given the run around when she actually arrived at the BLM office the morning of the round up. When she got on the road, she found a connundrum of public and private roads. She had been warned that she would be arrested if she got off the road on private property. Of course, the BLM had moved the roundup to private
property, and she was told she could not watch it without the owner's permission.
Why isn't anyone at a major media outlet covering this story. It is a story about the abuse of government power, manipulation, intimidation, and the waste of hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars. It is also a story about a government agency deciding without the authorization of Congress to make wild horses extinct.
What is the BLM doing with out wild horses that is so awful, they don't want anyone to see?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Fiver
Mon Apr 25, 2011 10:31 AM
A truck smashed into a house across the street from my property. No one was injured amazingly enough. I got my video camera out to tape the wreckage as the police rolled up. I was standing on my own property when a cop walked up to me and said he'd have to arrest me if I continued to record anything. I questioned the validity of that being totally unaware of the law in my state. But when he assured me that he would search my whole house and seize all my tech equipment I turned off the camera and went back inside to research what he was talking about. This law is indeed insane.
Comment: #5
Posted by: kris
Thu May 12, 2011 7:55 AM
After being married to a cop for 10 years and now divorced. I've learned that this is the most hypocritical job on the planet. Drinking and driving, speeding, stealing, abuse of power on and off duty, and cheating on your spouse all seem to be common place in every department in the Bay Area. We need civilian revue boards to police the police. The way it stands now, is like having your own mom and dad being judge and jury to their own children. Hence cops are rarely found guilty of any wrong doing... What a surprise!
Comment: #6
Posted by: mike
Mon May 16, 2011 8:00 PM
It is hard to do the right thing when you are threatened with arrest for doing it. It is sad it has to be this way, but when I witness a crime, I ignore it. As soon as you try to report it, you are screwed. The reality of this country is you are guilty until proven innocent and even then you are still a piece of dog crap. Cops are not your friend. They are only there to abuse their and lord over you. A law that is not uniformily enforced ceases to be a law.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Rod
Wed Jun 15, 2011 9:35 PM
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